The Dunderheads, Part One
October 24, 2009 by 9 Comments
I have another picture book for your consideration–one with a longer, more independent text: THE DUNDERHEADS by Paul Fleischman. What follows is the opening sequence of events, representing roughly one-fifth of the text. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of Candlewick Press.
"Never," shrieked Miss Breakbone, "have I been asked to teach such a scraping-together of fiddling, twiddling, time-squandering, mind-wandering, doodling, dozing, don’t-knowing dunderheads."
That was her first mistake: the insult.
Mistake Number 2: no eye for talent. An easy mistake to make, in our case.
Miss Breakbone hated kids. Every time she made a student cry, she gave herself a gold star.
Confiscating was her speciality.
Rumor had it she’d bought her electric chair from selling all the stuff she’d taken away.
Then, one Friday, she went too far.
"Theodore! Bring that magnifying glass up here this instant!"
She didn’t know that everyone called him Junkyard. He was always digging stuff out of the trash cans–like the one-eared cat he’d found when we’d walked to school that morning. You should have seen his face light up.
His mother was a maniac for cat stuff, and he’d needed a present for her birthday that Sunday. He was set.
"And the cat!" snapped Miss Breakbone.
Mistake Number 3: the outrage.
Junkyard put them both on her desk. And then he started crying, right in front of the girls. Miss Breakbone gave herself a gold star.
"But they’re mine," he said.
"Not anymore," she snapped. She studied the cat’s green eyes with interest. "And don’t even think about getting them back."
Mistake Number 4: the dare.
THE DUNDERHEADS. Text © 2009 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations © 2009 by David Roberts. , Somerville, MA.
The Dunderheads take up the challenge, working together to break into Miss Breakbone’s house to steal the cat back for Junkyard. In the jacket flap copy Fleischman writes, "The lure of the perfectly matched team is powerful and perennial. Behind THE DUNDERHEADS lies not only OCEAN’S ELEVEN and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, but THE FOOL OF THE WORLD AND THE FLYING SHIP, THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS, and similar folktales from deep in our past." If you have not yet read THE DUNDERHEADS, I hope this preview will send you scurrying to your bookstores and libraries. If you have read it, then I welcome your initial impressions of the text as a possible Newbery contender. I’ll weigh in with my own impressions next time . . .